More shoppers than ever are trying to be increasingly mindful about their purchases, whether that means purchasing more sustainable products, or simply buying less.
If you are looking for organic, sustainable food, your priority might be the use of fewer pesticides and fairly paid farmers. For clothing it might be about making sure the place they were made is safe for factory workers.
If you want to make more conscious choices about the way you shop for jewellery, this guide has everything you need to know, from lab-grown diamond earrings to getting crafty and making your own beautiful pieces at home.
It can be all too easy to dismiss where our products come from when we buy them, but while searching for ethical jewellery requires a little research, it’s well worth the effort. Through shopping more consciously you’ll not only have a beautiful piece of jewellery; you’ll have more peace of mind knowing you’ve contributed towards helping those in need.
There are a number of ethical challenges currently faced by the jewellery industry. Despite efforts to change things for the better, sadly there are still some places where human rights violations such as child labour continue to happen, the land is over-mined (affecting the local ecosystem), or entire communities are displaced.
Buying ethical, conflict-free jewellery might seem a challenge if you’re not sure what to look for – but just as you’d do with your food at the supermarket, it can be as easy as “reading the label”. This might mean asking in-store, or, since so many of us tend to shop online these days, checking the manufacturers’ website.
Diamonds have been a major ethical issue in the jewellery industry for many years. A key point to look for is where gems have been sourced from; if they appear to be from areas of conflict, they may not be ethically sourced or sustainable. While it’s essential to be aware, knowing where they’re from isn’t a guarantee that they are ethically sourced. Other things to look out for include:
- Clear statements that their gems have been ethically sourced.
- Support and funding of projects directly related to the fair trade and production of diamonds by fairly paid, humanely-treated workers.
- Gold jewellery with a Fairtrade Gold stamp (this supports local communities with things like medical care and education).
- Recycled metals and gems.
- A clearly traceable supply chain (this can include things like images from the mines, mining licences and disclosure certificates published on the website).
Also be aware of “greenwashing”, or claims that the jewellery is ethically-sourced without any evidence to back it up. If you are not sure, certain resources such as the Jewellery Industry Summit, Ethical Metalsmiths, FLO-Cert and the Responsible Jewellery Council may be able to offer advice.
There’s also the option of purchasing gems which have been made in labs. These gems are so much like earth-mined diamonds that even professional gemologists can’t tell the difference at first glance – the only way you can really tell is by looking at them under a microscope for tiny “inclusions” (imperfections found in mined diamonds).
Most of us have heard the saying about a diamond being a piece of coal that survived under pressure, but this is incorrect. While both coal and diamonds are mined from the ground, coal is made from plant matter and carbon, and while both are made from carbon (coal is primarily plant-matter), diamonds have a different chemical structure and are free from organic impurities.
Naturally-sourced diamonds take millions of years to develop, while lab-grown diamonds can be formed in a matter of days using the HPHT, or high-pressure, high-temperature method invented in 1954 by scientists at General Electric. A seed crystal is placed inside a press, with a block of carbon on top, before intense heat and pressure is applied. Once cool, it’s then cut and polished into shape.
Lastly, you also have the option of making your own jewellery. Tutorials are easy to find online, or you could attend a local workshop to learn how to recycle old pieces of jewellery. For example, a single earring with the other one missing can be turned into a pendant necklace. You can also learn how to work with metal wire, or you can even learn the art of beading. That way, you’ll have a unique piece that you can proudly say you made yourself.